Tuesday, 9 August 2016

National Science Week

The 13th-21st August marks National Science Week in Australia! The theme of the event is drones, droids and robots - and there will be a big focus on the T of STEM, Technology!

For a free poster with lots of ideas on how to get involved - whether you are in Australia or not - click here. There are lots more things you can get on the website too, such as a ‘teacher resource book’!

Be sure to join in on social media - mention us @refthinking if you get involved plus @Aus_ScienceWeek and #natsciwk too.

To celebrate the occasion, we have made one of our most popular Digital Mysteries apps (usually a paid app on the App Store) into a FREE activity. It’s an interactive, collaborative task for pairs or small groups to work on together and helps 8-11 year olds learn about animal habitats and food chains in a fun way.

Here’s a screenshot of the activity in action. This is after a dedicated Reading Stage and the point where students can use fun things like sticky tapes, groups and notes to start sorting the information cards out:

As you can see, students must read all of the clues, make connections between them then put forward an argument as to where the mysterious character, Pebbles, may live. Students are not specifically told what type of animal Pebbles is either, so they must work together to investigate.

To download the free task, simply:
  1. Search ‘Thinking Kit App’ on the App Store or click here then download the FREE app.
  2. Go to Educator or Learner then New Session then Download, and enter the code 1789.
If you have any questions at all or want to give us feedback, please email info@reflectivethinking.com.

Friday, 5 August 2016

FREE iPad app - Theo in Ancient Greece

To celebrate today's official launch of the Rio 2016 Olympics, we have made our 'Digital Mysteries: Theo in Ancient Greece' app absolutely free! This activity is aimed at 7-11 year olds and has a strand about the history of the olympics and the role that main character, Theo, played in it.

It's free to download until 21st August 2016 - the date of the closing ceremony. If you'd like more information on the iPad app, please click here.

To download, click here or search 'Digital Mysteries Theo' on the App Store! We hope you enjoy using it, and if you have any questions or comments, please email info@reflectivethinking.com.

The beginning of the grouping stage in the app.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

What can bring communities and schools together?

Viewing the goal of learning as community building rather than individual enrichment can change how we view our responsibilities as learners.

Ahmed, our director, and senior researcher at Newcastle University, recently posted a piece on one of his new ventures - 'commissioning in education'. It’s a brilliant read and I wanted to try and break it down to post on our blog, as I think this research could lead to great things for students, teachers and communities...

In many places, there’s a lot of resources available that aren’t being used as much as they could be. Whether social, physical or intellectual resources, some aren’t being used at all. This is despite the great potential that community networks can contribute to improving students’ learning experiences. With commissioning in education, we want to make use of this potential.

Now, of course, there are some great initiatives out there, but these are often on a small scale and require A LOT of effort and coordination on everyone's part. This is where Ahmed’s ambitious goal comes in:

To build a platform that transforms how schools build partnerships in their communities. One that needs little input from both sides and is realistic, sustainable and could be scaled up.

The platform will need to provide the:
  • opportunity for any individual or organisation to express their ‘needs’ in the form of a campaign.
  • tools to help promote such campaigns. (The aim is to collect enough ‘endorsements’ to validate the proposal.)
  • set-up to cement any requirements and possibly add to the preparation or planning of needed resources (depends on the idea).
  • means to create realistic/usable actions for users to choose from (e.g. project proposal, curriculum, learning resource etc.)
The main roles outlined for the platform are:
  • Idea proposers
  • Supporters
  • Contributors
  • Users/beneficiaries
Any person or organisation can play any of these roles, e.g. a local organisation could 'commission' a school to carry out a project with an educational benefit. Students or teachers can then 'commission' members of the community to contribute resources or collect information. What this means then, is that the platform must allow for a two-way relationship between schools and communities.


Who: A local village shop owner

Why: Wants to encourage more people to shop there rather than the big supermarkets.

How: Make the benefits of this clear.

What: They propose an idea (on the platform) with the aim of 'commissioning'/asking students of the village school to start an awareness campaign on this. The idea then gains support from other shop owners, some parents, as well as the local school geography teacher who becomes aware of it.
This leads to the project moving to the ‘design phase’. The shop owners, with the help of the teacher, shape this idea as a project-based learning activity with clear learning goals. They agree on some key points to address, a timescale and some possible outcomes (e.g. flyers and an awareness video).

What one village shop owner started, ends up being a well defined project-based learning activity that takes a number of learning objectives around economy, society, environment, effects, and change; one that other teachers can then implement in their local areas as well.

During carrying out the project, the students then decide to start another activity: they ‘commission’/ask their local community (individuals and the shop owners themselves) to provide some short, mobile-based, video captures, plus some data that they can use to produce their flyers and awareness video.

This is still early stages but if it is something you think sounds interesting, please comment below or email ahmed.kharrufa@newcastle.ac.uk to be added to the ‘interested contacts’ list (he promises no spam!)

Friday, 22 July 2016

4 things I learned from our STEAM Co. workshop

This week, I had a fantastic day at Broadwood Primary School. Teacher Mel Horan organised a STEAM Co. day of lots of different activities, and I was asked to host a Thinking Kit workshop. There was huge variation; from lavender bag making to writing/performing music, to rocket firing!

Mr STEAM Co. introducing the day of creativity
Mr. STEAM Co. Nick Corston
I arrived at 7.45am and Mel gave me my own STEAM Co. passport, which all children would also receive. It had details of all of the activities and a space for a letter next to each. The more workshops children visited, a secret message would be revealed. A nice extra touch to encourage them to try new things.

Our spot was the computer suite, and I was gifted with the company of Broadwood’s ICT/Computing Lead, Jeanette Bowden, and Bridgewater teacher, Tracy Philipson. The facilities were great - lots of iPads and fast laptops. Tracy had used our content-based apps, Digital Mysteries before so that was a helpful start. We thought the most challenging things would be the varied ages (6-11) and that they could come and go as they please. Jeanette mentioned that one thing that could be on our side is that the children would hopefully help each other. Time would tell!

Two students discussing their iPad activity
Two students and I, discussing their activity
After a welcome assembly, it was time to begin. Jeanette, Tracy and I hurried back and awaited our first arrivals. Sure enough, we had a mixture of ages: 6-9 year olds. The best thing to do first was have them explore Digital Mysteries, so they knew what types of activities they could create. They particularly found ‘Who killed King Ted?’ cool and younger children liked ‘Why didn’t Amy go to school today?’ Within five minutes, many started asking when they could create their own, plus at the same time, more children appeared, ready to join in and ask what we were doing...so that was when the fun really began!

Here’s the four key things I learned:

  • Children teach each other

    This was really lovely to see and particularly prominent, I think, because of the flexibility of the day. The vast age difference between some of the children in our workshop, meant that natural instincts to help others came to fruition without us asking. With some being very young, they hadn’t typed in a web or email address before, so older children showed them what to do, what to type and where to click. This meant that although being young and at this stage of learning meant they couldn’t create a task on their own, they played a part and learned some key skills as they went along.

  • Let passions shine through

    If you’ve not heard about Thinking Kit before, it allows teachers and students to create their very own app-like activities for iPads. We can’t speak to everyone who's used Thinking Kit up to now, but some that we have, have told us that students have created activities on a range of things - but often curriculum-based. This is great and one of the key things that helps integrate the tool into day-to-day school life, but this day was all about freedom and creativity. For this reason, I left the topic completely open.
    A task all about Batman being created:
    1 & 2: Creation side. 3: In the app.
    Some students needed a bit of help to think of an idea but others thought of topics straight away. 'Lightbulb moments’ included activity ideas to discuss children’s minecraft expertise, whether Cinderella should go to the ball, Batman’s exploits and why some YouTubers are so popular! 
    While these aren’t “curriculum topics”, they ignited the passion the students needed in order to help them become content creators. Whilst they were getting excited that they were using their favourite hobby as part of a school activity, they were also developing many skills. A few to name; often collaboration, writing, targeting a particular audience, research, web-skills of sourcing relevant images and saving/uploading them plus general digital skills.

  • Don't assume

    As I mentioned earlier, one of the challenges was going to be suiting the workshop to different age groups all at the same time. This then led me to believe that maybe younger children would either be able to stick with ‘solving’ our own mysteries or only creating a task with strong guidance. Now, whilst these two things definitely did work well for some children, one of the younger children actually made so much progress that he created four tasks all on his own! At the beginning, I sat with him to guide him through some of the things that were new to him but after that, he was on a roll! Whilst I’d expected only year fives and sixes (age 9-11) to create full activities predominantly on their own or with peers, this boy and a few others actually proved me wrong - with a little guidance and passion for their idea, children can achieve their goals independently. It was lovely was seeing the students share their tasks with others too.

  • The simpler the instructions the better

    Pre-Thinking Kit, we had Windows software that enabled people to create their own activities. This tool formed the basis of the Thinking Kit Creator, but our developers had to have a big cull in terms of features to make it accessible online and also to open up the tool to more children. Because we made the tool a lot simpler, we thought we had the bare minimum of what someone would need to create an activity. However, seeing primary children using the tool for myself, opened my eyes: we still have a few advanced options that can be hidden away for those who know to look for them. Examples include adding a Reading Stage or extra instruction: just their presence meant those few more precious minutes being used to ask what they meant. The key is to suit tasks to different audiences - our original and very advanced Windows authoring tool is still very useful to some teachers, but they know what they are looking for and so the extras help rather than hinder.
Helping one of the younger students to create an activity
Helping one of the younger students
The day was brilliant. Everyone involved - from the teachers, to teaching assistants, to members of the local community and different businesses, and of course the children - worked really hard to make the day a success, and it most definitely was!

For more information on Thinking Kit and how to get the free app and a free trial to the activity creator that the children used, please visit www.thinking-kit.com. You can also read our last blog post for details on how to get involved with STEAM Co. here.

Some examples of students' work...

Task 9774 'Should we go to the beach?'

Task 5159 on Robin Hood